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. . . No. Ut. 


Custody and Condition 


Parishes, Towns, and Counties, 

ITlflTED ST A'- 

By ROBERT T. SWAN, Commissioner. 

18 Post Office Square. 

Crrmmontotfrfijjr af l|assaxjnis*tts. 

Office of the Commissioner of Public Records, 
State House, Boston, Jan. 1, 1902. 

To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives. 

I have the honor to submit the tenth report of this com- 
mission, being the fourteenth in the series of reports on the 
public records. 

The act providing for the appointment of a Commissioner of 
Public Eecords requires that the commissioner shall report to 
the Legislature in each year the results of his labors, with 
such recommendations and suggestions as may seem important 
for the safety and benefit of the records. The results of his 
labors cannot be summed up annually, as several years of labor 
have been required to bring about some of the results, but it 
can be stated generally that there has been a great improve- 
ment in everything relating to the safety and benefit of the 
records. Some detailed results, and some recommendations, 
are presented under their respective headings. 

Terms of City Clerks. 
The statement that several years of labor are required to bring 
about certain results is verified by the fact that it has taken 
eleven years to make it possible for cities to elect their clerks 
for terms of three years. That twenty-seven of the thirty- 
three cities have accepted the act authorizing such elections, 
by a total majority of nearly two to one, is a most important 
result, as it will check a tendency, which was growing, toward 
making the office political, to be contested annually, and will 
serve notice on those who w r ould bring the county recording 
officers into politics that sentiment is against it. The commis- 
sioner has always urged that the cities and towns be put upon 
the same basis as the counties, and that the election of the re- 


cording officers in the cities and towns for long terms be re- 
quired, not merely authorized, but the popular approval of the 
act of authorization may have a better result than if the Legis- 
lature alone had passed upon it, and the cities which have re- 
jected it may come into line with popular opinion. 

The following are the only cities which rejected the act : 
Beverly, Lowell, Marlborough, Northampton, Quincy, and 

It is greatly to be regretted that Quincy and Lowell are 
among the number. Under the system, peculiar to Quincy, of 
having the clerk appointed by the mayor, the office has been 
purely political, changing with the party. In the twelve years 
during which Quincy has been a city there have been four 
clerks. In Lowell there is usually a contest. Between the 
years 1882, when the clerk who had held the office thirteen 
years died, and 1895, there were five changes, with no election 
in 1893, when the incumbent held over. On the other hand, 
it is a satisfaction that Lawrence and Pittsfield have accepted 
the act. The offices there have been political, with frequent 
changes and bitter contests, complicated with other municipal 
matters, and the clerks have never felt sure of continuing in 
office long enough to do all they might desire for the benefit of 
their records. 

Terms of Town Clerks. 

The advocacy of three-year terms for town clerks has at last 
resulted in the adoption by the Legislature of the soundness of 
the arguments in favor of the principle by its authorizing such 
terms, but the act relating to the matter has thus far received 
little attention. Whereas the act relating to cities required a 
vote upon its acceptance, the towns are to vote if they see fit, 
and few citizens are enough interested to ask for action. The 
clerks naturally will not suggest it, although knowing the ben- 
efit to be derived. Then, too, the act contained a provision 
that the clerk may be chosen " clerk of such offices, boards, and 
departments of the town as the town may determine by vote." 
This is not only superfluous, as the several boards may choose 
the clerk or whomsoever they please clerk of their boards, but 
it has been construed to mean that a clerk chosen for three 
years under the act must be clerk of the boards, and that is not 

1902.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. 

always practicable. Grafton was the first town to accept, the 

Arguments in favor of long terms for the clerks hav< 
often been set forth during the past eleven years that it 'Iocs 
not seem worth while to repeat them, but it is more important 
that the term should be along one in the towns than in the 
cities, for two reasons. In the cities the records have an 
abiding place, which is the clerk's office. In the towns the 
clerk's records go from place to place with each change of 
clerks, with unnecessary wear and liability of loss, and no 
suitable permanent place is provided. In the cities the clerk-, 
have assistants conversant with the work and competent to 
keep up the routine, while in the towns no one but the clerk 
has knowledge of the records or duties. 

The passage of the following act offered last year is again 
urged : — 

An Act fixing the Terms op Office of Town Clerks. 

Section 1. Iu the year nineteen hundred and three, and every 
third year thereafter, there shall be elected, by the voters at the 
annual meeting in each town, a town clerk, to hold his office for three 
years from the day of his election. 

Section 2. Every such clerk shall hold his office until the election 
or appointment and qualification of his successor, unless sooner re- 
moved by due process of law. 

Section 3. When a vacancy shall occur in the office of town 
clerk, the person elected or appointed to fill the vacancy shall hold 
the office until the end of the unexpired term of the person last hold- 
ing the office. 

Section 4. Section three hundred and thirty-five of chapter eleven 
of the Revised Laws, and all acts and parts of acts inconsistent here- 
with, are hereby repealed. 

Section 5. This act shall take effect upon its passage. 

Increased attention has been given during the year to bind- 
ing records needing expert treatment. Towns where no dis- 
position to take action appeared have had their attention called 
to the statute requirement, and the binding of their records 
has been insisted upon. 


Under the discretionary power given the commissioner, 
binding has been paid for from his appropriation for some of 
the towns where the cost would have been a burden, or where 
it seemed unjust to compel a small town to pay for binding the 
records pertaining to a large part of its former territory, now 
comprised in other towns. 

Binding by the Emery process has been done during the 
year for several of the county offices, where more or less of it 
has before been done from time to time, and for the following 
forty-two towns : Athol, Barnstable, Barre, Becket, Belling- 
ham, Bernardston, Brbokline, Cohasset, Dartmouth, Douglas, 
Duxbury, Essex, Greenfield, Hadley, Hatfield, Holden, Hub- 
bardston, Manchester, Middleborough, Monson, Otis, Ox- 
ford, Peru, Phillipston, Provincetown, Rochester, Royalston, 
Sandwich, Savoy, Sharon, Southampton, Stockbridge, Stowe, 
Sudbury, Sunderland, Warwick, Wendell, Wenham, West- 
field, Westminster, Windsor, and Wrentham. 

As an example of what can be done with mutilated records 
illustrations are given of the first volume of the records of 
Stockbridge, one representing the book in the condition when 
found a few years ago, and two showing pages of the record 
after binding in silk. 

Among the records bound at considerable expense were four 
very dilapidated volumes of the records of the Proprietors of 
Rochester, containing the original lay out of lands in the terri- 
tory now included in Rochester, Marion, Mattapoisett, and 
part of Wareham. That Rochester should bear the whole 
expense of binding these did not seem equitable, but as there 
was no way in which the cost could be divided, it was paid 
from the appropriation for this commission. 

As the proprietors' records appropriately belong in the 
registries of deeds, and the State has paid for putting these in 
condition for preservation, it would seem advisable and proper 
that these be placed in the registry of deeds at Plymouth, 
where they can be accessible to persons interested in estates 
in either of the towns. About five hundred plans of lands 
recorded in these volumes, which will be put in form for pres- 
ervation and reference, could also be placed there. 

Plate 1.- First Volume of the Records of Stockbridge. 

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Plate 3. — A Page of Stockbridge Records after Binding. 


Misplaced Records. 

The statute provides for the recovery of public records m 
private custody, but there are instances where certain records 
are held by a custodian of public records, under a supposed or 
doubtful right. This has occurred in some places where, at 
the time of a division of a town, the records were in a part of 
the town embraced in the new town. This has resulted in the 
commencing of new records in both towns at the time of 
division, and the retaining of the old records in the new town. 
In other cases, records formerly kept by a county officer at 
his home have drifted into a town office, and have come to 
be considered the town property, though properly belonging 
to the county. 

The records of old Norfolk County are widely scattered, 
having apparently remained where they happened to be at the 
time of the dissolution of the county. By acts of the New 
Hampshire Legislature in 1897 that State has taken jurisdiction 
of all the public records of the county found in the State, and 
they have been placed in the State Library at Concord. These 
are mostly records originally kept in Portsmouth or Dover, 
those pertaining to matters mostly in the southern part of the 
county apparently having remained in Massachusetts. 

One volume of these was found by the commissioner with the 
records of Salisbury, and contains a record of the births, mar- 
riages, and deaths in Amesbury, Exeter, Hampton, Haverhill, 
and Salisbury from 1670 to 1747, and a record of deeds in 
1691 and 1692. This was in a very dilapidated condition and 
was bound in silk without expense to Salisbury, and it would 
seem proper that it should be with similar records in the office 
of the clerk of the courts at Salem. 

In the office of the city clerk of Salem is a volume originally 
containing, according to the title-page, the births, marriages, 
and deaths in Salem, Lynn, Gloucester, and Wenham, returned 
to the clerk of the courts at Salem, from 1637 to 1711. The 
Wenham record has been torn out. This is one of a series of 
the county records and should be placed in the clerk's office. 
Beverly, Danvers, Lynnfield, Manchester, part of Middleton, 
Nahant, Peabody, Kockport, Saugus, and Swampscott were 


originally in the territory covered by the record, and their 
citizens are entitled to find the record in the county office. 

The records of Eastham to the time of the setting off of 
Orleans in 1797 have been kept in Orleans, having been in that 
part of the town at the time of division. Several of these 
volumes were in a dilapidated condition, and have been bound 
by the commissioner from his appropriation, it being unjust to 
require either Eastham or Orleans to bear the expense, and 
impossible to have it divided between those towns and Well- 
fleet, also interested. Under the circumstances it would seem 
proper that the records when bound should be deposited in the 
parent town, Eastham. 

The records of Tyringham to the time of the setting off of 
Monterey in 1847 are in Monterey. Some of these need 
expert binding, for which Monterey would not wish to pay, 
and which it would be unfair to require of Tyringham unless 
the records were deposited there. Many of the records of 
Adams, prior to the setting off of North Adams in 1878, are 
at North Adams. 

There are other instances where records are not in the town 
whose name they bear, and it seems advisable that there should 
be some legislation by which all records formerly belonging to 
a county or town should be transferred to their original custody. 

The passage of the following act is recommended : — 

An Act for transferring Certain Public Records to their 
Original Custody. 

Section 1. All public records of the county of Norfolk prior to 
1681, which shall be found within this Commonwealth, shall be de- 
posited in the office of the clerk of the courts in the county of Essex. 

Section 2. Any public records, except those mentioned in the 
foregoing section, deposited elsewhere than in an office in the county, 
city, or town to which they respectively originally belonged, shall be 
kept in the custody of the person having the custody of similar rec- 
ords in such original county, city, or town. 

Section 3. Whoever under the provision of this act is to become 
the custodian of any of the records mentioned in this agt shall de- 
mand the same from any person in whose possession they may be, 
and he shall forthwith deliver the same to him. 

Section 4. Whoever refuses or neglects to perform any duty re- 

1902.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. 9 

quired of him by this act shall be punished by a fine of not more than 
twenty dollars. 

Section 5. All acts or parts of acts inconsistent herewith an 
hereby repealed. 

Section 6. This act shall take effect upon its passage. 


The statute requires " fair and legible copies thereof season- 
ably made " whenever records are becoming worn, mutilated, 
or illegible, and it is a part of the duty of the commissioner to 
see that the statute is enforced. It is not enforced because 
under existing circumstances it cannot be. Persons competent 
to make accurate copies are very few, and a poor copy is worse 
than none, as the copy is usually used, and the errors are ac- 
cepted as the original record. 

In a few of the cities and towns, where the clerk is reasonably 
sure of continuing in office, copying is being carried on under 
the direction of a clerk who appreciates the value of a good 
copy, and is giving personal attention to it, but the custom has 
been for the copying to be entrusted to a person willing to do 
it for a stipulated price, and no further attention has been 
given to it. 

Many copies have not been certified and have no legal 
weight. The result has been worthless copies and mutilated 

The statement that competent copyists are very few is ques- 
tioned, as a good penman is generally supposed to be com- 
petent to copy, but copyists of records should possess the 
following qualifications, and such are few : be able to read the 
ancient alphabet if the records are written in that hand, and 
have a faculty of reading difficult writing of whatever date ; 
understand double dating ; be familiar with ancient phraseol- 
ogy, and technical or colloquial words ; know ancient Christian 
names and local surnames ; and, above all, have sufficient un- 
derstanding of the general subject of the records to know how 
to solve doubts by the relation which various entries may bear 
to each other, and to know that any writing or marking on 
original records is a species of mutilation. 

That copies have been very generally made by persons lack- 


ing in these qualifications is best shown by specific statements. 
In one instance the copyist destroyed the original. Copyists 
have checked with ink every item copied, the check mark some- 
times obliterating a faint letter or figure ; entries have been 
crossed out after being copied ; the word ' * copied " has been 
written across original entries ; indistinct letters and figures 
have been written over to make them distinct, but really 
changing them ; " wrong, see page — for duplicate," has been 
written when there was no evidence which entry was correct, 
yet the copy contains but one ; pages or parts of pages that 
were difficult to read, or seemed unimportant, have been marked 
" not copied," but no mention of the omission appeared in the 
copy. (In one town the record of the names of representa- 
tives was omitted, the record of the Legislature having been 
deemed sufficient.) 

Egregious and senseless errors have been made in the at- 
tempt to solve doubtful words, or to make sense of a sentence 
after a doubtful word has been wrongly copied. Failure to 
discover for what a wrongly spelled word was intended, and 
copying it as something entirely different, and omitting or sub- 
stituting capitals according to modern usage, have been com- 
mon errors and have utterly changed the meaning. Copying 
but one of the dates of a double date has made records worse 
than useless, illegitimatizing births. 

Some examples of what have been found in copies, together 
with puzzling words and entries in originals, with which copy- 
ists are liable to have to contend, are presented to give force to 
the foregoing. The original entry is first given, followed by the 
translation : are — heir; gine (copied give) — join ; natcher — 
Nashua ; Leietement — illegitimate ; a gorned — adjourned ; 
graniaryman — grand-jury-man ; hole of the rats — whole of 
the rates (taxes); the aplus — Theophilus ; Brer — Beriah; 
sale — Sally ; chicken — Chickering ; macarrel — McCarrell ; 
gorg lorance — George Lawrence ; Cornell Quinser — Colonel 
Quincy ; winesenite — Wednesday night. 

Serious mistakes have been made by copying as the surname 
the occupation of a man, which was often added as a distinguish- 
ing term, or of misreading a word, as in the following cases : 
. . . Clarck — intended for clerk, but copied as the surname 

1902.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. ll 

Clark; . . . glover — copied Glover; Danill Billings Smith 
— Daniel Billings, " ye blacksmith" (mentioned later) ; . . . 
and Abigail Ballard ware published — copied Abigail Ballard 
Ware; . . . and Hannah Coles Boath of . . . — copied Han- 
nah Coles Booth. 

Illustrations without number could be presented, but the 
foregoing should be sufficient to establish the fact that any 
general copying of the records, excepting under expert super- 
vision, would be worse than useless. 

Public Record Office. 

The statute requires the commissioner to report "such 
recommendations and suggestions as may seem important for 
the safety and benefit " of the records. The recommendation 
that a public record office be established would be useless, ;t 
being such a radical departure from present methods, and one 
involving so much first cost, but as the absolute safety for, and 
full benefit of, the public records cannot be secured without it, 
the suggestion is made that some investigation be instituted 
to ascertain the sentiment in the cities and towns regarding the 
depositing of their early records, to a date to be determined, 
in such an office. If the prevailing sentiment were against it 
further pursuit of the subject would be useless ; otherwise the 
matter might receive serious consideration. 

Existing conditions are in general as follows, although some 
of the cities and towns are giving their records proper care. 
All the cities and towns now have safes or vaults. If safes 
they are sufficient for the more important records, but not for 
minor ones, nor for the files that are required to be preserved. 
Moreover, a safe which the commissioner finds, at the time of 
inspection, sufficient security for the records in the building 
where it then is, may almost immediately be moved into 
another, the burning of which would probably damage, if not 
destroy, the records. 

If a vault has been built either a part or all of the records 
are in it, according to its location. If located conveniently for 
the clerk and most of the town officers it will contain all the 
records, otherwise the records are in various places. If the 
clerk has office hours, and the care of the vault, it is opened 


daily, and is therefore dry, but as a rule the vaults are not 
opened oftener than weekly, when the selectmen meet, and in 
some towns they are never opened except when something 
therein is wanted, or more likely something is to be stored 
there. The consequence is that most of the vaults are damp, 
and in many the mould is thick and bindings are dropping off. 
In many, the Massachusetts Term Reports and the series of 
Public Documents have been stored, when they absorb mois- 
ture, making it impossible to dry the vaults. (The word 
" stored" is used advisedly, as they are usually piled in with- 
out regard to arrangement, and it is universal testimony that 
they are never consulted.) The suggestion is always made 
that they be taken out. Trunks and chests filled with ancient 
files, and sometimes containing records supposed to be lost, 
are found in the vaults, the papers in the bottoms having 
decayed from dampness. 

The earliest volumes of the records contain everything 
which was to be made a matter of record, — town meetings, 
births, marriages, deaths, ear marks, valuation lists, stray 
beasts, etc. These are not indexed, making them of little 
value for reference in their present condition. If copies have 
been made, they are, as has been more fully set forth, more 
than likely to be inaccurate. Bindings are poor and rapidly 
growing worse. 

The records are not, as required by the statute, open to the 
public and convenient for examination and reference. The 
clerks are not properly compensated by the town for the care 
of them, some receiving nothing, some charging a rate by the 
day or hour for the time spent in making the record, and some 
having a salary, but none but the very few who, usually holding 
some other town office, keep office hours, are paid enough 
to make it reasonable to expect them to take time from their 
main occupations to give to persons desiring to consult the 
records. The town will not vote a sufficient amount to main- 
tain a town office, the citizens accommodating themselves to 
circumstances when having occasion to consult the clerks or the 
record, and not deeming it necessary or equitable to pay for 
the accommodation of others. Perhaps it is nearer the fact to 
say that the citizens know and care little about the records, 

1902.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. 18 

but know that the clerk never has been paid but a paltry -urn 
under the lax system which has prevailed, and do not know- 
that every year more and more is required of him for which be 
should be paid. 

No fees are prescribed or can be demanded for consulting 
the records, which, however, must be done under the super- 
vision of the clerk, who is liable to a penalty for allowing it to 
be done otherwise. Keasonable fees for copies can be charged, 
but the time spent in searching unindexed, mutilated, and al- 
most illegible records in order to make copies must be so long 
that an estimate of the cost discourages the inquirer, who makes 
his own search, taking the clerk's time without compensation ; 
or if a copy is sent with a reasonable charge no fee is remitted. 

In a public record office all these conditions would he 
changed. The building would be absolutely fireproof, and 
under proper rules fire within would be an impossibility. 
Decay of the records would cease, and all mutilated ones would 
be bound on the premises. Eecords and papers would be as- 
sorted and classified and indexes made. Copying would be 
done by experts and properly attested, and printing could be 
properly supervised. 

With this accomplished the records would for the first time 
be available, and a particular record pertaining to any person, 
or any matter, in any part of the State, could be seen, or an 
attested copy easily procured for a small fee. Long journeys 
to find what does not exist, or is recorded elsewhere, need no 
longer be made. 

A large majority of the people have little appreciation of the 
value of the records, thinking their protection is for the satis- 
faction of persons interested in genealogy. As it has seemed 
necessary to require since 1639 a record to be kept of every 
birth, marriage, and death, it would seem equally necessary 
that the record be preserved. But granting that these records 
are only for the gratification of a few, there are matters of all 
sorts recorded in the records of the towns which affect the 
rights of individuals, corporations, towns, cities, counties, and 
the State. Town boundaries ; locations of highways ; allot- 
ments of land to proprietors which have descended to heirs, 
without deeding or record of transfer ; rights of way : riparian 


rights ; parish rights, and duties to the town ; pauper settle- 
ments ; and many other matters recorded are subjects of costly 
litigation, which could be easily and amicably settled. 

The cost to the towns and the State of deciding pauper set- 
tlements is a considerable annual sum. Towns attempt to fix 
the support of paupers on each other, or combine to fix it upon 
the State. Much of this cost could be saved if the records 
were accessible and indexed, as the same quarrels have been 
fought out with other boards of overseers, and settlements le- 
gally established. Under present conditions no one knows 
whether a record exists or where it can be found, but if, acting 
on assumption, search in the dilapidated, unindexed records is 
attempted, it is long and expensive. 

Some plan for relieving the counties, cities, and towns of the 
accumulation of papers must be formulated before many years, 
but the destruction of papers should be carefully supervised. 
In the towns there are many important reports among the files, 
often accompanied with plans, which are only briefly alluded 
to in the records, and constitute the only record. There are 
also papers not actually part of the files, and which the town is 
not required to keep, part of which are of general interest and 
would contribute to the history of the Commonwealth. These 
could be properly examined in a public record office, and 
either their destruction ordered, or preservation secured, under 
some such system as prevails in the English Public Record 

A national public record office has been advised by the sec- 
retaries of some of the departments at Washington, and has the 
approval of leading members of Congress. The suggestion is 
each year more and more frequently made, both in public and 
to the commissioner, that such an office be established in this 
State, otherwise the subject would not have been treated at 
such length. 

Reports of the Commissioner . 

An increase of five hundred copies in the number of the 
annual reports is recommended. In view of the apparently 
proper desire to reduce the amount of public printing this rec- 
ommendation is made with some hesitancy, but the increased 
number is necessary to supply the demand of many of the re- 

1902.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT-. No. 52. 15 

cording officers, and to furnish copies to others who would be 
much better informed in regard to the law and their duties if 
they had them at hand. 


The following volumes of town records have been published 
during the year : — 

Cambridge. The Records of the Town of Cambridge (formerly 
Newtowne), Massachusetts, 1630-1703. The Records of the Town 
Meeting, and of the Selectmen, comprising all of the First Volume of 
Records, and being Volume II. of the printed records of the town. 
Printed by order of the city council under the direction of the city 
clerk. Cambridge, 1901. 

Fitchburg. The Old Records of the Town of Fitchburg Massa- 
chusetts. A copy of a portion of the records contained in Volume 
III., pages 1 to 270, inclusive, being Volume Four of the printed 
records of the town. Compiled by Walter A. Davis, City Clerk. 
Fitchburg, 1901. 

Watertown. Watertown Records, comprising the Third Book of 
Town Proceedings and the Second Book of Births, Marriages, and 
Deaths to the end of 1737, also Plan and Register of Burials in 
Arlington Street Burying Ground. Prepared for publication by the 
Historical Society. Watertown, Mass., 1900. 

Weston. Town of Weston. Births, Deaths, and Marriages, 
1707-1850. 1703— Gravestones — 1900. Church Records, 1709- 
1825. Appendix and Addenda, Cent Society, Gleanings from the 
Town Files, Bits of Genealogy, Errors, Indexes, etc. Edited by 
Mary Frances Peirce. Boston, 1901. 





Terms of City Clerks, 3, 4 

Terms of Town Clerks, 4, 5 

Binding, 5,6 

Misplaced Records, '. . 7-9 

Copying, 9-11 

Public Record Office, 11-14 

Reports of the Commissioner, 14, 15 

Printing, 15